A bill to allow Mississippi deer hunters to use weapons of choice on private lands during certain primitive weapons seasons cleared a giant hurdle on Tuesday (March 12) when the Senate reconsidered House Bill 1139 and passed it by a 44-8 vote.

The bill, which was amended twice in the Senate, now returns to the House of Representatives for concurrence. The House faces a March 28 deadline to accept the amendments and pass the bill as it exists, or decline to concur and invite conference to work out differences. If it goes to conference, the House and Senate would each select three conference committee members to meet and work on a compromise.

There remains a chance that H.B. 1139 could get shot down if it fails to gain concurrence or if it goes to conference committee and no compromise is reached, but Rep. Scott Bounds (R-Philadelphia), chairman of the House Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee, doesn't expect that to happen.

Bounds, the author of the bill, said he expects it will pass the House, which approved the original version 114-3 on Feb. 12.

"It is my anticipation that H.B. 1139 will pass the House again," Bounds said Wednesday morning. "I think that through the process, the bill has been strengthened and clarified from what I originally drafted."

The Senate's amendments include language that:

* clarifies who will be allowed to use weapons of choice to include guests of landowners/leaseholders.

* specifies that only those seasons after Nov. 30 will be included.

* delays the effective date of the legislation a year to July 1, 2014.

Bounds supports all three amendments, and understands why the Senate delayed the bill a year and removed the early November special season.

"I did agree to move it out to 2014, although that was not my original intent," he said. "I agreed to this after some gun dealers expressed concerns about getting rid of excess inventory. If H.B. 1139 passes, they now have approximately 18 months to sell excess inventory they may have of the (previously allowed) centerfire rifles."

Under current law, hunters can use certain single-shot breech-loading centerfires with exposed hammers and a minimum of .35 caliber, in addition to muzzle-loading rifles. Bounds expects there will still be a market for those guns, since public lands and the early special November season will not be affected by the bill.

"There may be some votes that have been picked off by some of the gun dealers, but I do anticipate it passing with a strong vote," Bounds said. "It is my intent to bring it up for concurrence as soon as it hits the House calendar. The sportsmen of Mississippi are in strong support of this legislation." 

Tuesday's vote was a surprise, not that it came back up for a second ballot but how easily it passed. On Feb. 27, the Senate defeated the bill by a vote of 25-20 with six Senators either absent or not voting. It was immediately held on a motion to reconsider entered by Sen. Giles Ward, the chairman of the Senate's Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee. The bill faced a Thursday (March 14) deadline for recall.

That gave Ward and other supporters of the bill two weeks to work the Senate for more votes, and apparently the time was well used to explain to the full body exactly how the legislation would affect hunters.

Said Ward: "We worked hard between the bill's failure to pass the Senate on Feb. 27 until I called it off the Motion to Reconsider calendar yesterday morning to educate the 'nays.' The proof was in the pudding."

Ward accepted blame for the bill's original failure on Feb. 27.

"In what I thought was a needed primer for non-hunters who serve in the Senate, I fear I may have 'over-explained' the bill on initial presentation," Ward said. "I spent far too much time giving a history of primitive firearms and the fact that no longer are they limited to muzzle-loaded weapons. Apparently I confused a lot of folks.

"Additionally, a limited number of legislators garnered a large amount of support from their peers on the premise that this bill would destroy the market for (previously approved) centerfire weapons. In my opinion, that is far from the truth. Considering there will continue to be an early primitive weapon season in which weapons of choice will not be permitted, that weapons of choice will not be allowed during any primitive weapon season on public land and WMAs and that many deer hunters want an arsenal of every allowable weapon, it doesn't take a marketing expert to conclude that there will continue to be a market for those weapons."

If House Bill 1139 receives legislative approval, it would then be sent to Gov. Phil Bryant for his consideration.

Bryant has yet to sign Senate Bill 2048, which would allow crossbows during any open archery season and would ensure that all archery equipment would be legal during any open deer season.

The bill is due back from the Governor on March 18.